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I have followed your Lordship's judgment in the choice of one moral subject with which these volumes are concluded *; and I wish young men of fortune would consider it for themselves, as earnestly as I have considered it for them.
Every age hath its favourite errors; to which fashion gives dignity and influence. When these come in my way,
I never spare
them: yet I endeavour to correct them as mildly and prudently as I can. But when I say this, I am sensible there is an Author, whose happy manner and temper, on such occasions, few will be able to equal, or even to imitate.
The present time gives me an opportunity of congratulating the Church of England on the addition of such a Prelate to the already-excellent and learned bench of English Bishops: and it would be criminal in me, if I were not to add my own to the general voice of the Public, on this occasion.
That there may be in the diocese the same disposition, as there will be in your Lordship to promote the peace, piety, and edification of all orders of people in it, is the wish, and shall be the prayer of,
And devoted humble Servant,
NAYLAND, MAY 30, 1790.
* The Sermons above alluded to are the 13th and 14th in the 4th Volume.
FRET NOT THYSELF.
PSALM xxxvii. 1.
IT is of more importance to every man, that his mind should be at peace, than that his body should be in health. We use great caution for the preservation of our bodily ease; and are at great expences for the restoring of it when lost. But as a restless mind is a worse evil, and hath also an effect in impairing the faculties of the body, all proper preservatives are diligently to be sought for and applied. We are sent hither, into a world, where sin
produces a thousand disorders: we are therefore born to meet with such things as will disturb and vex us, more or less, according to our different principles and propensities.
We must see right invader, innocence oppressed, wisdom disregarded, merit neglected, justice hated, truth misrepresented and opposed, hypocrisy, rapine and violence unpunished, and sometimes applauded.
At these things the wisest of mankind are apt to be agitated with unreasonable indignation : while the weak, ignorant, and impatient, are driven to despair, madness and suicide.
When persons of delicate habits, and tender irritable minds, are without principle; which is too often the case in this age of uninformed sentiment ; the prospect is dreadful. For when such are disappointed, they become desperate; accusing Providence, when they ought to accuse themselves; and flying
out of life, in a rage at those evils, which, perhaps, need not have been; or might have been cured; or at least, rendered very supportable.
Our blessed Saviour, knowing how bis disciples were exposed to all the trials common to other men, and to other uncommon ones brought upon them by their profession, gives them this necessary adviceIn your patience possess ye your souls. Of which passage, the physiology is strict and true : for the impatient are not in possession of their souls: they are no more masters of themselves than persons divested of their reason. And the two cases are so much alike, that the fashion of the times hath confounded them; by making no distinction, in cases of suicide, between the wickedness of impatience, and the weakness of lunacy.
And what can we find within ourselves to give us patience? Human prudence may be allowed the wisdom of experience, to make us cautious; but it hath nothing positive, to give us strength: no gifts, no doctrines, no promise; all of which are necessary to us in our present state.
The pride of heathen philosophy affected an indifference to pain and pleasure; and having adopted the principles of a blind fatality in nature, fled to insensibility, as the grand remedy for all the evils of life.
Under the state of the gospel, zeal and piety bring Christian people into difficulties, by exposing them to the hatred of the world. To avoid which, we are under a temptation of betaking ourselves to the convenient policy of offending nobody: and, to put a face upon our pusillanimity, we call it discretion ; the cheapest of all the virtues: because the reputation of it is obtained by doing nothing; at least, by doing no good, for fear of interrupting our own ease. The
brightness of the rainbow is attended by another circle, of an inferior light wherein the order of the colours is inverted. So is the bright circle of the virtues attended by another set, of a spurious kind, which mock the true; and this faint-hearted discretion is one of them. It may please us for a time, but it will deceive us at last.
The thing to be desired, therefore, is a true, religious serenity of mind. We call it patience, in respect to the ways of men; and fuith or resignation, in respect to the ways of God.
This is to be attained
The text saith, when the context is added, Fret not thyself because of the ungodly! The troubles of good men arise chiefly from the ways of evil men; of which we have many examples from the life and ministry of Jesus Christ; whose enemies were the greatest of villains and hypocrites, from Herod the king down to Judas the traitor. When good men trouble one another, they do it by mistake: but a bad man cannot act as such, without molesting society, and injuring his neighbours. Vice, as a cause, will have its proper effects, as brutes, by invariable instinct, follow the ferocity or uncleanness of their natures. Idleness will rob and plunder and run in debt; avarice will cheat: error will persecute the truth which it hates; ambition, to raise itself, must reduce other men; malice must gratify itself with lying and defamation; and revenge must live, like a vulture, upon blood.
When we see these things, we are to consider, that the wicked who disturb the world are themselves in
a very perilous situation; which is abundantly described in the psalm from whence the text is taken. It is observed of them,
First, that they are all weak and mortal like our. selves: that they shall soon be cut down like the grass and withered even as the green herb. We are all under one common sentence of death; and no man hath in this respect any pre-eminence above another. However great and powerful a sipner may be in his wickedness, he must be cut down and withered. When we lament our own mortality, we may lament his; and so long as we can lament his fate we shall be more patient towards bis failings.
But the condition of his life, while it last, is not such as it may appear to be from some partial circumstances: it is unhappy and ensnaring, in its best estate. If we find a man's ill humour troublesome to us, we may be assured it is much more troublesome to himself. He who giveth light, must first be illuminated : he who troubleth others, must first be troubled himself. The sea is agitated by the wind, before the ship is tossed about and endangered by it; so the people who disturb mankind are like the trou. bled sea, which can never rest, but casteth up mire and dirt, and defiles its own waves with the foulness of its own bottom.
The temporary success of a wicked man is a snare to him. His prosperity, while it lasts, is not a blessing, as to good men, but a temptation and a curse. Therefore it is said, in the books of Proverbs, the prosperity of fools shall destroy them*: it shall beget a blind confidence and presumption, which shall lead them on from one ruinous step to another. It shall furnish them with all the means and instruments of
* Prov. i. 32.